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'Elway to Marino' details fascinating background to '83 draft

By Tim Graham

One more proposal. One less phone call. Another change of heart. A quicker decision.

The course of the NFL -- dynasties and ruts -- would have shifted spectacularly.

Maybe the Buffalo Bills wouldn't have gone to a single Super Bowl. Or maybe Dan Marino would have led them to a Lombardi Trophy.

What happened with John Elway 30 years ago was that influential to the sport.

"Elway to Marino," the latest installment of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series, looks back on how the legendary 1983 draft unfolded precariously for Elway, Dan Marino and their agent, Marvin Demoff.

Elway held the NFL's future in his palm. Stanford's hotshot quarterback was the best player in the draft, but he refused to play for the Baltimore Colts, the team with the first pick.

A Louisville Slugger was his hammer. Elway always could go play for the New York Yankees.

San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh considered trading Joe Montana for the No. 1 pick. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis thought he'd arranged a trade that involved sending Howie Long to the Chicago Bears.

The New England Patriots tried a draft-day deal that included John Hannah. The Dallas Cowboys thought they could tempt Colts coach Frank Kush by reuniting him with his Arizona State quarterback, Danny White.

Marino, meanwhile, dealt with rumors about drug usage at Pitt. He plummeted down the draft chart.

"Elway to Marino" debuts at 8 p.m. Tuesday and provides a fascinating review. For the first time, Demoff explains passages from the detailed diary he kept of conversations with the Colts and NFL general managers scrambling for Elway.

Bills fans will be especially interested in frank interviews with quarterback Jim Kelly and former player personnel executive Norm Pollom.

The Elway dominoes might have impacted the Bills, and, depending on whatever needs opened up for other teams, Marino easily could have gone to them with the 14th overall selection.

The Bills also owned the 12th pick. With Kelly and Marino both still on the board, Pollom explained the Bills were in a no-lose situation. They were guaranteed one quarterback or the other regardless of who they took at 12.

"My agent turned to me," Kelly said in the documentary, "and he said, 'Jim, is there anybody you don't want to play for?' And I go, 'Oh, yeah.' Remember, I went to the University of Miami of Florida.

"I said, 'Yeah, oh, yeah. I don't want to play for the Minnesota Vikings. I don't want to play for the Green Bay Packers, and I sure don't want to play for the Buffalo Bills.'

"I'm sitting there in front of the TV, and all of a sudden it's the 12th pick of the first round, and I'm sitting there, saying, 'Please don't pick me.' "

The Bills drafted Notre Dame tight end Tony Hunter.

"Yeah! I jumped out of my seat and I hit my mother, knocked my mother on the ground," Kelly said. "I'm, like, 'I'm sorry, mom! I'm sorry!' I pick my mother up. I go, 'But I'm not going to Buffalo!' "

The Detroit Lions took fullback James Jones with the 13th pick. The Bills gleefully snagged Kelly next.

"I cried," Kelly said. "I didn't really, literally cry. I just had tears. I'm, like, 'You gotta be kidding me.' "

The Patriots had the next pick and went with Illinois quarterback Tony Eason. The documentary explains the Patriots would have taken Kelly if the Bills hadn't.

Kelly praised the Bills' organization in a televised interview right after he was selected.

"You have to say those things," laughed Kelly, who signed with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL.

"Those were lies."


Jim Kelly | Norm Pollom
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |